When Luis Raul Carmona P. retires from the Navy at the end of the month, he’ll have his favorite teacher at his side.
Mary “The Fox” Johnson, a teacher at Ardmore Middle School, taught Carmona in sixth grade, but the two stayed friends to this day, and she’ll be the guest speaker at his retirement. Corona said speakers are usually a commanding officer or family member, but for him, she’s been his mentor from the beginning.
“To me, that says more than a manager in the service,” Carmona said. “When a student leaves the classroom, technically her responsibility is done, but she takes that extra step. Her classroom is the whole world.”
Carmona, a petty officer first class with a focus in aviation warfare avionics, joined the Navy in 1999, participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, then worked in Denver as a recruiter, in-flight technician, and instructor. He said of all his occupations, he enjoys working as an instructor the most.
“It’s interesting watching them go from not knowing anything, fresh out of high school, to working on a $43 million aircraft,” Carmona said. “You just let them go.”  
Johnson said she’s given many speeches and introduced former students during formal events, but this marks the first time she’s given a speech like this.
“To see that growth in this person, to plant a seed, it takes a while for it to grow and to flourish,” Johnson said. “You don’t know how it’s going to grow.”
When Carmona returns to visit family in Ardmore, he always comes back to visit Johnson, talk to her students and answer their questions.
“I wanted to be someone like her,” Carmona said. “She left an impression on people. Sometimes, when I meet people, I recognize certain characteristics when they’re talking. They’re enunciating their words, and I know they went through her class.”
Johnson taught Carmona sixth and seventh grade geography, which she still teaches. Johnson said he was a good student, attentive and focused, but quiet and withdrawn, something she had to help him grow past.
“I teach my kids how to speak,” Johnson said. “When we’re doing presentations in class, I teach them how to speak properly at the same time.”
“I was shy,” Carmona said. “I hate to use the word, but I hated her. I thought, ‘When am I going to need this?’”
He said as much as he resisted the lessons as a student, he found himself using them constantly throughout his career.
“The first thing I’d think is, ‘I need to enunciate,’ and then I would picture her sitting at the back of the room,” Carmona said. “That’s where she’d sit and say, ‘I can’t hear you.’”
He said in one case, Johnson visited his house and convinced his parents to let him go on her class’ annual trip to Langston University, despite a significant language barrier. While Langston wasn’t his final destination, he said the experience influenced him and he never forgot how insistent she was on helping him.  
“I’m going to strive to be that person,” Carmona said. “People say I’m her former student. I still see her as my teacher, she always has been.”
Twenty years and a few trips around the world later, he still comes back to visit. The first time, he bought her a gift, a necklace from Turkey with her nickname, Fox, on it.
“To me, it was just a souvenir,” Carmona said. “But every time I’d show up, she’d have it on. It’s kind of spooky.”
For Johnson, it meant a great deal.
“I just can’t explain to you what it means when a child comes back to you and says, ’This is for you,” she said. “It let me know he cares, he’s interested in what I’m trying to do.”
“It’s never ‘how have you been?’ It’s ‘what have you done?’,” he said. “My parents are proud of me, but parents are always proud of you. It’s different when it’s somebody who says, ‘That’s my student.’”